The latest twist in the race to provide high-speed Internet access from above comes in the form of a report in The Guardian, to the effect that a hush-hush Google project called SkyBender is testing drones in the skies above Spaceport America in New Mexico.
The Guardian says it’s obtained documents laying out how high-altitude drones could relay gigabits of data per second, using millimeter-wave, phased-array transmissions. Jacques Christophe Rudell, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Washington, is quoted as saying that “the huge advantage is access to new spectrum, because the existing cellphone spectrum is overcrowded.”
Millimeter-wave communications could open the way for 5G wireless service that’s 40 times faster than the current 4G LTE standard. But millimeter-wave signals have a relatively short range: According to The Guardian, Project SkyBender would have to use thousands of transceiver-equipped aerial vehicles to knit together the network.
The system is reportedly being tested using Aurora Flight Sciences’ Centaur optionally piloted aircraft as well as the solar-powered drones made by Titan Aerospace, which was acquired by Google in 2014 after a fling with Facebook.